When people find out that I make beer and wine they generally ask two questions: is it legal and is it any good.
The answer to the question of whether it is legal is really a two parts. During prohibition federal law prohibited making beer and wine at home. The penalty if you were caught was a year in prison or a $1000 fine. Once prohibition ended the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935 made home wine making legal but not beer making. Finally in 1978 Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing by signing into federal law, Senate Amendment 3534. Part two of whether it is legal to make beer and wine at home has to do with state law. Each state has their own alcohol laws and some states still outlaw making beer and wine at home. Thankfully in Indiana it is legal to make beer and wine at home. Just don’t sell it—that would make you a bootlegger.
With the legality question answered we have the question of whether homemade beer and wine tastes good. The answer is a resounding YES, if you are clean and sanitary about it. Even if you use an award-winning recipe with the very highest quality malt, hops, yeast, grapes or fruit your fermented beverage may not be so tasty if you are lax about sanitation.
What happens when the process isn’t sanitary? You may have some off-flavors in your beer or wine. Off-flavors in beer can range from plastic, band-aid-like, sour, butter or butterscotch, green apples, cooked corn or a mélange of cooked vegetables, solventy (think acetone or paint thinner) and finally clove and banana (although these last two are OK in wheat beers).
Off-flavors in wine result in sourness such as vinegar, “corky” or moldy, rotten-egg like, mousy, buttery, Chloroseptic or barnyard/horse blanket/wet dog/hamster pee-pee. Off flavors sound delicious, don’t they?! Usually these off-flavors are perceptible but not overwhelming making the beer or wine almost drinkable on a Sunday when you can’t buy alcohol in Indiana.
Let me set you straight right here and now on home made beer and wine: nothing that can survive in beer or wine is going to kill you or even make you sick. NOTHING. So let’s just concentrate on making sure we are sanitary so we have tasty beer and wine. More on sanitation in my next blog.